What happened to the musical?

avenueq1Culturally, I think we’re in a pretty good space right now.  Musical artists are finding new and creative ways to reassemble the old quarter notes and eighth rests.  Books and movies?  Heaps of stuff going on.  Theatre?  There are many exciting new plays that come out every year.

But my first love was and will always remain the musical, and it saddens me immensely to see that it is undergoing a prolonged and painful slump.  Oh sure, American Idiot by all accounts is awesome, and ticket sales are finally boosting, and that new production of Mary Poppins is doing well.  But when was the last time you heard about a brand new musical – with brand new, un-recycled music – that was wowing the theatre world?  When was the last time someone actually did something original with the music and lyrics, and married it successfully with even a half-decent book?  In the last ten years, I could probably count five.

Of course, what I just detailed is probably the main concern.  A musical is a huge creative undertaking that probably scares the living bejeezus out of composition students.  Bad enough trying to write the individual parts, but putting it together is massive.  It’s probably something that no one wants to risk these days.  Why not stick with the tried and true, instead of pushing for the uninitated and outre?

I can only hope this is a period of stagnancy, and not the beginning of a wretched death.  It would be a shame indeed if the legacy of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber was relegated to the schlock currently produced.

Do you watch musicals, new or old?

- Jean AAR

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11 Responses to “What happened to the musical?”

  1. Kara says:

    I love musicals…some of my favorite are Camelot (with Richard Harris); Brigadoon; Fiddler on the Roof…who could forget Grease…Oh, I could name so many more. I wish there were more great musicals being produced today.

  2. Tee says:

    There are some musicals that are classics, as far as I’m concerned. My favorite would have to be “West Side Story.” I absolutely loved that one. How about “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers?” What a great story and the dancing, for the time (the ’50s), was fabulous.

    Kara mentioned “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Grease.” For sure, these were super entertaining. I don’t think they make them like this anymore, do they? “Phantom of the Opera” was a favorite of many, but this is one I just didn’t get. It had great effects, but it’s not on my list.

  3. Gail says:

    I don’t watch a lot of musicals but there are a few that I love, the only one done recently is Wicked though.

  4. Julie says:

    I love musicals… actually going to see Avenue Q in New York in a few weeks!

  5. Jean Wan says:

    Love most of what you guys just named – except Grease. For some reason, I just cannot stand it.

    Tee – I went through a big Lloyd Webber phase, then I did a 180 and switched to Stephen Sondheim. Now I still enjoy Webber’s music, but only in very small doses.

    Oh, and Les Miserables. Awesome musical.

  6. JulieR says:

    Good new musicals (not recycled from other sources) are still being made. We just saw the national tour production of “In the Heights”, which won the 2008 Best Musical Tony award and enjoyed it very much.

    It is true that most of the musicals we see through our theater subscription are retreads. But let’s not give up hope — it’s not that long ago that we saw the pre-Broadway tryout of a musical with what seemed like kind of a silly premise; we went home singing the music for “Wicked”, which has gone on to huge success. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for more like this!

  7. Sandra says:


    Long time reader,but this is the first time posting. I have been in passionate love with musical ever since 8th grade when I was in Bye Bye Birdie.

    The last musical I felt really excited about was Avenue Q and ‘Light in the Piazza.’ Has anyone seem/heard music from Phantom, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera?

    I have the music, and it sounds so beautiful.

  8. Lynda X says:

    I suspect “Glee” will kick off musicals, but because they are so expensive, it’ll probably be just a collection of existing tunes, like the show. I think musicals have turned into something a little different, like “Mama Mia” (fabulous movie, IMO) and “Jersey Boys”–musicals of a popular group. Oddly enough, some of the best musicals are being written for kids’ movies, like “The Little Mermaid,” “Toy Story,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” then going to Broadway. Wouldn’t it be so much fun if Hollywood produced a musical whole production, as Bollywood does!

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